It’s time to launch our winter basketball content on CalHiSports.com and we are doing it with a preseason Top 40 of the top boys teams from all across the state. This group is led by No. 16 JSerra and includes the rest of teams down to No. 40 Capital Christian of Sacramento, plus a list of 25 more teams that just missed.
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To check out the teams we ranked from No. 1 to No. 15, CLICK HERE.
16. (NR) JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 18-12
Even though we correctly predicted the Lions would make last year’s CIFSS Open Division field, they were a bit of a surprise entrant based on their overall resume. Once they were in the gauntlet, however, they fared well, defeating No. 11 Alemany in the consolation bracket and losing 88-82 to No. 15 Damien. Coach Zach Brogdon’s club doesn’t have a big weakness to point to, as there is a legit big man, scoring punch on the wing and experienced guards. San Diego St-bound and Ghana native Joel Mensah (6-11, Sr.) is an aggressive shot blocker and physical around the basket. Talented J.T. Robinson (6-2, Sr.) and Jordan Alvarado (6-3, Sr.) form an underrated backcourt. When D.J. Rodman (6-4, Jr.) transferred over from Corona del Mar of Newport Beach, he made this team a real threat to challenge top-ranked Mater Dei and No. 10 Santa Margarita for the Trinity League crown. Rodman, son of Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, was an all-CIFSS choice after averaging 20.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg last season. Right after its second league game with Mater Dei, JSerra faces No. 12 Rancho Christian at the Nike Extravaganza.
17. (38) Pasadena 27-7
The Bulldogs were a .500 team after 10 games last season, but hit their stride at the right time, winning 19 consecutive games before falling to Harvard-Westlake in the CIFSS Division 1A title game. Coach Tony Brooks’ team avenged that loss while advancing to the SoCal D2 regional final and should be better this year. It all starts with Bryce Hamilton (6-4, Sr.), a UNLV commit who just turned 17 years old as a rising senior (a rarity in today’s basketball climate). As a junior, the returning all-stater averaged 24.6 ppg and 8.2 rpg and was named Pasadena Star-News Player of the Year. Underrated point guard Darius Brown (6-1, Sr.), who displayed good improvement over the summer, complements Hamilton nicely in the backcourt. It will be the inside play of Tavian Percy (6-6, Sr.) and the all-around contributions of Darius Mason-Robinson (6-3, Jr.) that ultimately decides if this perimeter-oriented team can challenge for a CIFSS Open Division berth.
18. (26) Foothills Christian (El Cajon) 24-7
This is a spot where we could have went in various directions, but we’ll go with the Knights as the preseason No. 1 team from the San Diego Section. That originally was going to St. Augustine at the No. 6 or No. 7 spot, but returning first team all-stater Taeshon Cherry (6-8, Sr.) left the Saints’ program a week ago to enroll at Foothills. We also seriously considered San Joaquin Memorial for this spot and even Vista as the No. 1 team from San Diego, but we decided to see how it plays out with players transferring out and checking in to coach Brad Leaf’s program. Foothills lost McDonald’s All-American Jaylen Hands (UCLA) to graduation and T.J. Lowery to transfer, but returns seasoned point guard Jalen Nafarette (5-8, Jr.) while adding Yassine Gharram (6-2, So.) and Jalai O’Keith (6-4, So.). Gharram is from Pt. Loma and the talented O’Keith comes over from Mater Dei of Chula Vista, where he sat out his freshman campaign. Of course, we don’t know if Cherry will play immediately, sit out the 30-day sit-out period for transfers or exactly how many games he’ll play, but his talent is just too much to ignore on any team. The returning San Diego Section Player of the Year averaged 20.3 ppg and 10.4 rpg and stepped up in big post-season games for St. Augustine. It will take time to build chemistry, but if all the newcomers are in the lineup by the second half of the regular season, Foothills will be a tough post-season opponent.
19. (NR) San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 26-7
The Panthers are a clear cut No. 1 from the CIF Central Section with a nice blend of experience, athleticism and raw talent. SJM did lose athletic wing Deon Stroud to out-of-state transfer, but gained LMU-bound Dameane Douglas (6-6, Sr.) from Hanford West. Douglas may not be quite as athletic, but he’s more consistently productive than Stroud (WYL MVP in 2016-17) and eligible right away. The Panthers’ point guard duties are in the good hands of Lunden Taylor (6-3, Sr.), a physically strong guard who can get in the key and is already a two-time all-state underclass choice. When it’s all said and done, Jalen Green (6-5, So.) also may end up being the player with the most post-season honors. He averaged 18.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 3.2 apg while earning a reputation as the best tenth-grade prospect in the state. If Taylor has a consistent season and if role players such as Jonah Geron (6-6 Sr.) and Justin Huelskamp (6-4, Jr.) blend in high IQ play-making to a potent offensive lineup, this team could make some noise no matter in which regional it is placed.
20. (12) Westchester (Los Angeles) 24-10
After the Comets exceeded expectations for what seems like the seventh consecutive season since capturing the last of six CIF D1 state titles in a 13-year period ending in 2009-10, we made an executive decision about the program. As long as Ed Azzam (846-265) and his veteran staff is in place, the Comets will have a place in our preseason Top 20. They don’t have some of the top end talent as their back-to-back state title teams in 2009-10 (Jordin Mayes, Dwayne Polee Jr.) or the incredible depth of their early 2000s teams (including the 2003 unit which produced three NBA players), but Westchester plays together, plays hard and has enough talent to beat other state-ranked teams when it matters. It happened again last season when long-time Western League rival Fairfax downed the Comets twice in league play, but they returned the favor in the L.A. City Section semifinals. Fairfax will again have its hands full as Azzam returns stellar back court mates Jordan Brinson (6-2, Jr.) and Jeremiah Turley (5-10, Jr.) while welcoming talented transfers Zellie Hudson (6-5, Sr.), Kaveon Batiste (6-8, Sr.) and Kaelen Allen (6-6, Sr.) to the legendary program.
The Next 20
21. (NR) Etiwanda 21-12
Longtime coach Dave Kleckner (562-186) stepped down during the off-season, but had a change of heart and got his job back. “Clamp City” is back and the Eagles will definitely be one of the best defensive teams in the CIFSS. Kleckner does have some fine offensive players at his disposal in Pepperdine-bound forward Kessler Edwards (6-6, Sr.), Krystian Wilson (6-2, Jr.) and Elijah Harkless (6-3, Sr.).
22. (NR) St. Mary’s (Stockton) 21-12
The Rams are not overwhelming by any means, but we like their unit and they deserve credit for defeating No. 9 Folsom in both the Sac-Joaquin Section and NorCal regional playoffs. Bryce Johnson (6-6, Jr.) returns after averaging 15.0 ppg and 10.4 rpg and earning all-state underclass honors. Coach Ken Green is also expecting big seasons from Tre Jenkins (6-2 Sr.) and Jamar Marshall (6-1, So.). Those two, however, play football so they may not be practicing with the hoopers for a few more weeks.
23. (23) Taft (Woodland Hills) 27-11
This is a team that can quickly move up, as coach Derrick Taylor has one of the best backcourts in the state with Virginia-bound Kihei Clark (5-9, Sr.) and transfer Mikani Whiteside (6-3, Jr.). Antwan January (6-9, Sr.) returns and if he can stay focused, the 19.8 ppg and 14.8 rpg production could put the Toreadors in the L.A. City Section Open Division title game because so few teams have quality big men.
24. (24) Vista 28-5
Similar to No. 23 Taft, the Panthers begin in the same rankings position they ended with last season after splitting games with the Toreadors. Dartmouth-bound Taurus Samuels brings a winning pedigree and is one of SoCal’s best point guards. He’s complemented on a unit strongly considered for San Diego County’s preseason No. 1 slot by talented Jordan Hilstock (6-3, Jr.) and Isaiah Morris (5-11, Sr.)
25. (NR) St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 23-7
There are teams with more star power in the rugged West Catholic Athletic League, but the Wildcats get the nod as the early WCAL favorites from every media scribe and scout we spoke with. The reason is quality depth and chemistry, as Darrion Tramell (5-9, Sr.) and Brandon Beckman (6-1, Sr.) form an excellent backcourt along with D1 prospect Wren Robinson (6-0, Jr.), while underclass forwards Sam Nangle (6-7, Jr.) and Neal Begovich (6-7, Jr.) have next level talent.
26. (NR) Jesuit (Carmichael) 15-13
The Marauders rate as the Delta League favorites over always-tough Sheldon and talent-laden Grant of Sacramento, as they have a nice blend of returning talent and added a big piece. The newcomer is Elias King (6-9, Sr.), one of the top big men in NorCal who should put up double-doubles nightly. King played last season at Christian Brothers of Sacramento. The returning building blocks are double-digit scorers Chris Simpson (6-6, Sr.) and Jake Virga (6-0, Sr.) along with Grid-Hoop stud Isaiah Rutherford (6-2, Jr.), who was actually the leading scorer (14.0 ppg) on last year’s team.
27. (NR) Maranatha (Pasadena) 19-11
The Minutemen had some quality wins last season and head coach Tim Tucker’s unit should be even better in 2017-18. Fordham-bound Chris Austin (6-5, Sr.) had an excellent summer and is one of the top wing players in the CIFSS. Maranatha also has a solid returning guard in Khameron Cantrell (6-4, So.) and is bolstered by the transfer of Tony Goodwin Jr. (6-6, Sr.), a scrappy offensive player and one of the best on-ball defenders in the country.
28. (NR) Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo)
A solid No. 3 from Orange County and the top-ranked public school in the county returns its top three scorers from a CIFSS 2A title club. It starts with Dawson Baker (6-2, Sr.), a strong guard who combined solid fundamentals and savvy to average 21.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 2.8 apg. Nick Lipovic (6-3, Sr.) joined Baker in the backcourt with a 10.9 ppg average while Grayson Beeman (6-5, Sr.) netted 10.7 ppg.
29. (NR) Mission Bay (San Diego) 19-11
The Bucs rate as a solid No. 3 in San Diego County with a chance to push Vista and Foothills Christian, especially if the latter is not full-deck the entire season. Coach Marshawn Cherry has four players who all started as sophomores, including Rejean “Boogie” Ellis (6-3, Jr.), who is literally and figuratively growing into one of the best guards in the state. Also back in the fold are Ronnie Latting (6-8, Jr.), Jay Norton (6-1, Jr.) and Andre Scott (6-1, Jr.).
30. (NR) Brentwood (Los Angeles) 24-9
This team is similar to No. 28 Capo Valley as a returning CIFSS champion (3AA) and to No. 29 Mission Bay with four returning starters. Coach Moose Bailey is a bit concerned about his lack of a true lead guard, but the sheer dominance of 3AA Player of the Year Braelee Albert (6-5, Jr.) will offset some of that. Brentwood also has two players back with all-league accolades in Charley Wadler (5-9, Sr.) and J.R. Olofson (6-4, Jr.)
31. (NR) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 18-12
The Braves have some work to do to knock off the top-tier teams in the rugged Trinity League, but coach Matt Dunn has a nice blend of experience and a talented newcomer. The top returnee is D1 prospect Alpha Okoli (6-4, Sr.) but the player that could make this team go and a real threat to Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and JSerra is Jonathan Salazar (6-5, Jr.), a talented Panamanian who could quickly develop into one of SoCal’s top juniors.
32. (NR) Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley) 26-4
Junior guard Jaxen Turner (6-foot-2), who in addition to being one of the top returnees in the Inland Empire also is one of the top grid-hoop players in the state, is the leading player back for the Mustangs. It was a group last year also showed plenty of grit with playoff wins over No. 21 Etiwanda and No. 27 Maranatha to capture the CIFSS D1AA crown. The Mustangs lost quite a bit of firepower, especially in the backcourt, but coach Brandon Baker does a good job with scrappy players who get after it.
33. (NR) Crespi (Encino) 10-17
The Celts began the 2016-17 season No. 5 in the state after winning back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 2016, but were decimated by injury last season. If big-time prospect Brandon Williams (6-1, Sr.) can regain the game he displayed in 2016, it will make Taj Regans (5-10, Sr.) that much more of a perimeter threat. This team will quickly move up if the backcourt’s health holds up because Kyle Owens (6-6, Jr.) is quickly turning into a bonafide D1-bound forward.
34. (7) Sheldon (Sacramento) 30-4
The Huskies graduated quite a bit of firepower, including an excellent backcourt, but coach Joey Rollings’ has returnees ready to step up and added talented transfer Kaito Williams (6-2, Jr.). Dale Curry (6-1, Sr.) and Dom Johnson (6-1, Sr.) will take on expanded roles and if Ronald Agebar (6-4, Sr.) can provide some of the rugged work L.J. Williams performed last season, Sheldon will give No. 26 Jesuit all it can handle in the Delta League.
35. (NR) Windward (Los Angeles) 23-7
Jules Bernard (6-7, Sr.) coming back just by itself is a reason to perhaps think the Wildcats should be higher than No. 35. Last year’s team just probably needed to last a bit longer in the CIFSS D2AA playoffs. Bernard, committed to UCLA and our D3 State Player of the Year, averaged 25.3 ppg, 13.7 rpg and 2.6 apg. Corey Silverman-Lloyd (6-2, Sr.) and Jared Barnett (6-0, Jr.) are two other players to watch.
36. (19) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 18-11
The defending CCS Open Division champs are not as deep as they were a year ago, but Mitty has some key returnees back, a talented freshmen class and the excellent coaching of Tim Kennedy. Riley Grisby (6-6, Sr.) was a first team all-WCAL choice and is a prime candidate for all-state honors. Charles Meng (6-2, Sr.) is one of three returning starters and the best of the ninth-grade lot is Mike Mitchell (6-2, Fr.).
37. (NR) Central (Fresno) 20-7
There is no clear cut No. 3 preseason team in the CIF Central Section, the Grizzlies look like a solid No. 2 behind No. 1 San Joaquin Memorial. High-flying, high-scoring Cashemin Williams (6-3, Sr.) is one of the most underrated guards in the state while Jahmai Bartley (6-5, Jr.) is another with huge upside.
38. (NR) Cajon (San Bernardino) 23-6
The Cowboys could have their strongest team in a generation if Grid-Hoop extraordinaire Jeremiah Martin (6-5, Sr.) plays a full slate of hoops. There’s also DeShawn Washington (6-3, Sr.) back in the fold and he’s a talented wing guard with Jarred Hyder (6-1, Jr.) and ball hawk Darryl Jackson (6-0, So.) ready to increase their overall production.
39. (NR) Rolling Hills Prep (San Pedro) 29-2
Veteran coach Harvey Kitani (802-275) has five starters returning off his CIF D5 state title team, including CIFSS D5 Wooden Award winner Chris Koon (6-5, Jr.) and Alex Garcia (6-3, Sr.). The Huskies actually return their top seven players and Kitani refers to it as “young experience” with an excellent chance to move up.
40. (36) Capital Christian (Sacramento) 23-8
The deeper you go the harder it is and for this 40th position there’s also a lot of teams to consider. The Cougars would have been higher if big-time ninth grader from last season, Kendall Munson (6-7, Soph.) was not out with an injury. Tolu Jacobs (Penn State) is another talented big man who has transferred to a prep school. Still, Zach Chappell (6-4, Sr.) is one of the top guards in Northern California and Rick Barros (6-4, Sr.) is another who should step up. Capital Christian also is opening up against preseason state No. 11 Rancho Christian at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic.
25 Teams That Just Missed:
(17) Bellarmine Prep (San Jose) 25-3
(9) Birmingham (Lake Balboa) 27-4
(NR) Cantwell Sacred Heart (Montebello)
(35) Crossroads (Santa Monica) 20-11
(NR) Clovis West (Fresno) 25-4
(NR) Culver City 10-18
(33) Dublin 29-5
(16) Esperanza (Anaheim) 30-3
(NR) Fresno 22-8
(NR) Grant (Sacramento) 20-10
(39) Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood)
(34) Heritage (Brentwood) 27-5
(NR) Heritage Christian (Northridge) 20-10
(NR) Los Altos (Hacienda Heights) 21-6
(29) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 22-9
(30) Narbonne (Harbor City) 25-9
(NR) Notre Dame (Riverside) 31-4
(NR) Paraclete (Lancaster) 19-8
(21) Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 26-7
(NR) Sacramento 18-10
(NR) Santa Monica 20-8
(NR) Selma 30-5
(6) St. Augustine (San Diego) 28-5
(NR) St. Francis (Mountain View) 21-10
(20) St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) 30-2
To check out the teams we ranked from No. 1 to No. 15, CLICK HERE.
Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores
Your sleeping on Sheldon. We boat raced Folsom by 20 about a month ago. Held them to 7 second half points. Went 39-3 in June and made finals all 5 weekends. Jesuit will be lucky to hang with SHELDON this year. It’s ok better to be underdogs
Yes, I know Sheldon will still be very good.
Problem is, I am going more on what teams lost and gained and what they did, than what they did in fall leagues. If I went mostly by fall leagues, it would look alot different.